This year’s unusually warm, dry spring and hot summer have made for my best eggplant harvest ever. I’ve had plenty of eggplants to pickle, to make gallons of ratatouille for the freezer, and to experiment with eggplant spreads.
Eggplant spreads are popular around the eastern Mediterranean and in eastern Europe. Besides the famous Levantine baba ganoush, made with tahini and lemon juice, there are the Russian baklazhannaia ikra, which combines eggplant with onions and tomatoes, and the Romanian zacusca, which adds red peppers to that mix. In Bulgaria, kyopolou (or kiopolo, or kiopoola) flavors roasted eggplant with garlic, parsley, green peppers, and sometimes tomatoes. Moroccan zaalouk seasons eggplant and tomato with cumin, paprika, garlic, olive oil, and usually a little lemon juice. For ajvar, from Macedonia and Serbia, roasted red peppers are the primary ingredient, and some people say eggplant doesn’t even belong in the mix. But all of the many ajvar recipes I’ve found include it.
These spreads are usually eaten on bread—flat bread, dark bread, or whatever bread is locally favored. The vegetables are usually put through a meat grinder or mashed in a mortar (or a blender or food processor) for a smooth texture, but they may instead be chopped coarsely to serve as a salad.
The eggplants are always best roasted over a wood fire, for a smoky flavor, but when I’m in a hurry I use a hot oven, as in the recipe that follows. This recipe is basically one for Bulgarian kyopolou, except that I use ripe, red peppers instead of green ones and add a little toasted cumin. A mouthful of this rich mash silences every friend who asks, “What do you do with all those eggplants?”
¾ pound eggplant(s), stabbed with a fork in several places
½ pound fleshy, sweet red peppers, such as corno di toro
1 3-ounce meaty tomato
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
Heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Lay the eggplant(s), peppers, and tomato in a foil-lined roasting pan, and roast them in the oven, turning them occasionally. Remove the tomato after 15 to 20 minutes, when it has partially softened and the skin has split. Remove the peppers after about 30 minutes, when their skins have shriveled and darkened in spots. Take out the eggplant, if you’re using a single large one, after about 40 minutes, when it has blackened on the outside and completely softened on the inside. Smaller eggplants will probably be ready at about the same time as the peppers. Cover the hot eggplant(s) and peppers with a damp cloth, and let them steam for at least several minutes.
Peel the eggplant(s), peppers, and tomato. Chop them, and put them into a bowl. Add the parsley, garlic, vinegar, salt, black pepper, and cumin. Stir and mash the mixture together. Add the olive oil, and mix again.
Serve the spread right away, or refrigerate it, covered, until mealtime.
If you miss the smoky flavor you’d get from a wood fire, try adding a little smoked paprika.